This ain’t your grandfather’s National Football League anymore. Hell, it's not even your dad's. And I blame it all on Paul Tagliabue, flags and domes.
The past few years I’ve seen referees digging around their pants more than a Wall Street broker leaving a Chinatown massage parlor. Take some recent Sunday and Monday night games for a prime example. Madden, Michaels, Kornheiser, Theissman and Tirico heaped more praise on the safeties in these games than any other position, and rightfully so. Sean Taylor, Troy Polamalu, Donovin Darius and Roy Williams are premiere talents at their positions. Each one drew at least one personal foul in their respected games, and for what? Taylor hit a receiver too hard. Darius led with his head. And not even Joe Theissman, who you may recall suffered a broken freaking leg in the middle of a game at the hands of one of the great NFL assassins of all-time, agreed with the calls. “Let the players play,” he said, in some form or another, as they all did. And yet each and every quarterback and wide receiver looks to the refs with those puppy-dog eyes when they get hit too hard, or too near the sidelines or too close to their endorsement-money faces … It is getting to be too damned much.
Now I understand that there is the possibility for serious injury on that field. I understand that the quarterback is vulnerable on most plays. But isn’t that why they wear the equipment? Isn’t that why helmets aren’t made of leather anymore? And isn’t that why God invented a soccer ball?
I find it offensive to the sanctity of the game that quarterbacks – who knowingly leave their pocket of protection – get to slide on their butts to avoid contact. How many flags get thrown when the right guard and the nose tackle butt heads? Their helmets are scarred and discolored after the game to the point that they look like pre-schoolers scribbled on them. But if that same nose tackle breaks through the line and puts the top of his head into that 6’5”, 260 lb., Nike-sponsored quarterback’s? 15 yards and a fine from the league office. I almost vomited when I heard a personal foul get called on someone for "extending their arms" at the quarterback. Those are the type of calls that make my penis get soft.
Call me crazy, but I think the XFL and Arena Football had/have a lot more going for them than we gave it credit for. Fair catches? If you want to “fair catch” a ball, do it in the outfield on a softball field, ladies. You want a “fair” chance to catch a ball on the gridiron? Punt returners used to be the craziest sons of bitches on the team, and special teams players used to be human bullets flying downfield. They weren't as good as the stars of the offense and defense, but they earned their respect by taking the hits the fast receivers and stud linebackers didn't want to deal with. Now? A failed college quarterback who relied too much on the option is back there, and he daintily waves his arm above his head to alert the guys who carry Ray Lewis' gym bag that he's not going to try and advance this ball ...
Have we forgotten the history of this game? The greats that used to roam that proverbial frozen tundra? Almost every compilation of NFL defensive talent – whether it’s by the NFL office itself or Sports Illustrated or some 35-year old living in his mother’s basement wearing a throwback jersey – includes players that would get flagged and fined in today’s game. You disagree? Ronnie Lott led with his head more than Jenna Jameson. Deacon Jones’ personal head-slap – the signature move of a Hall of Fame player – is now a personal foul. Dick Butkus did everything in his power to make sure a quarterback didn’t play all four quarters. Ditto for Lawrence Taylor. You think Joe Greene got his “Mean” nickname for letting a QB slide in front of him? Night Train Lane? And it’s a two-way street. I’m sure Johnny Unitas throws up in his grave when he sees how pampered his position has become. And now these guys are breaking all his records? If Sammy Baugh and Otto Graham weren’t hit by a forearm in the nose every time they got tackled, the record books would be much different. Those are tough quarterbacks, those are the men that revolutionized the position … And for what? So J.P. Losman can scramble a few yards and awkwardly slide without getting his head taken off? When Trent Green got smashed a few weeks ago, I was the only one in the bar who stood up and cheered. Some men actually groaned and shouted for flags and fines immediately. For what? A football player making a football play? Jesus Christ people, for an extra $24 a month you can watch all the Premier League you want! Buy a sixer of Stella Artois and get the hell off that barstool.
And what about domes? Fran Tarkenton played in Minnesota – outside – for most of his 18-year career. Put that guy on some turf and Mike Vick would simply be “the black Tark” with less of an arm. I’m not a Green Bay Packers fan, or a Chicago Bears fan, but they’ve earned my respect more than their purple-clad opponents. And now they’re putting teams inside if the stadium was too hot! Arizona and their Pink Taco Stadium is as air-conditioned as can be; don’t want Matt Leinart breaking a sweat out there …
Maybe I’m a little too old-school, but I want my hits hard and high, I want my quarterbacks fighting for that extra yard and I want my toes to be freezing off when I’m sitting there waiting for it all to happen.